The Primitive, Genetic Connection to Easy Weight Gain in Us All

cavemanPeople who gain weight easily and have a tough time losing it are not to be blamed entirely for their situation.  There is more to the story than “a lack of will power.”

You see, humans as a species are wired to consume and store large amounts of energy (calories).  There is a genetic component to how we behave around food that can be difficult to suppress.

For millions of years, early man lived in a world where there were no cars, freeways, or supermarkets.  “Cavemen” had to expend a considerable amount of energy (thus, calories) every day acquiring food.  This meant walking at a fast pace for perhaps 20 or more miles a day hunting for prey.  The terrain wasn’t always flat, so there was likely a lot of climbing, swimming, and moving heavy things out of the way.  Quite often he had to run away from sabre tooth tigers and other predators.  Now that’s a workout that you can’t afford to fail.

When early man did come upon prey, he had to chase it and either club it or spear it.  Then, he had to skin it, gut it, and carry it back to the cave, again hoping that a hungry predator wasn’t going to steal it from him.  I don’t know how much a mastadon leg weighed back then, but I’m sure it was something like a telephone pole.  Imagine having to do this for dinner every day– there wouldn’t be a single overweight person on the planet!

Fast-forward to 2013.  Humans are driven by the same genes as our early ancestors, but now it doesn’t require as much caloric expenditure to get calories (energy); in fact, no where near as many.  Just get in your car, press on the gas pedal, go in the store, and load up and push your cart.  About 50 calories expended in all.  Then you eat that pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, about 1,000 calories in all.  Can you see the imbalance?  Those excess calories are stored as fat.

The other genetic-driven tendency that influences our eating behavior is the one that caused early man to eat as much food as he could when he encountered it.  Back then, there was no guarantee that he would find food the next day or week, so the tendency was for the caveman to gorge himself.  This was a survival mechanism that still exists in us today.  Plus, since there was no refrigeration back then, they had to eat the whole animal, or it would spoil.  Same goes for a bush of berries– the clan likely stripped it clean.

So, the next time you wonder why it’s difficult to stop when you’re at an all-you- can-eat buffet, or you are faced with a big bag of chips, this is the reason.  But despite this genetic tendency, the brain still has the ability to over-rule unwanted behavior.  When you see a lot of food in front of you, first of all slow down, take a deep  breath and think about it.  It’s not going to run away. Chew slowly and savor the flavors.  Imagine the food as you are chewing it.  This will dampen that primitive urge to pile on your plate and eat everything in sight.

Here’s another effective strategy to control overeating (especially as we approach the holidays):   5-10 minutes into your meal, STOP EATING for five minutes, and tune in to the present.  Time yourself.  That short interruption will further dampen those primitive, impulsive processes occurring in your brain, and your hunger and urge to eat will be less intense.    After the five minutes have passed, you will be more conscious of what you are doing and will have more control over your eating.   This is a great strategy to prevent over-eating.

This article was originally posted in my old site, Weight Loss Mavens.

Posted in Mindset.